How do values influence life satisfaction?
Friendly and helpful or assertive and goal-orientated, or both? FAU researchers led by Prof. Dr. Andrea Abele-Brehm at the University’s Chair of Social Psychology have investigated how personal well-being and life satisfaction can be achieved and how important values are in this respect.*
Agency and communion – these are considered the ‘Big Two’, the two fundamental dimensions in social interaction which describe the duality of human existence. Agentic traits are traits such as determination, competence and assertion which help achieve a goal and therefore represent personal self-assertion and self-development. There are also agentic values. They relate to the importance an individual places on aspects such as influence, wealth, achievements or recognition. In short, agency represents an individual’s desire for control and influence and how important these aspects are for the individual.
In contrast, communion represents an individual’s desire for community and social relationships. Communal traits include trustworthiness, friendliness, helpfulness and empathy. Communal values relate to the importance an individual places on trust, compassion, harmony or decency.
In a study which integrated these Big Two into research on life satisfaction for the first time and which was conducted in Germany and Russia, Prof. Dr. Andrea Abele-Brehm from FAU’s Chair of Social Psychology investigated the relationship between a person’s agentic and communal traits, their agentic and communal values, and life satisfaction.
Interpersonal values are crucial
Prof. Dr. Andrea Abele-Brehm assumes that agentic traits combined with high communal values have a positive impact on life satisfaction. The study’s findings confirm this assumption. Abele-Brehm summarises the findings as follows: ‘People who are confident and feel they can achieve their objectives (= agentic traits) and also deem interpersonal values (= communal values) to be particularly important are particularly satisfied with their lives.’
A total of 201 German and 328 Russian study participants were asked about their values, personal traits and life satisfaction. ‘Russia and Germany are different in many respects, for instance with regard to cultural traditions and the economic situation,’ Abele-Brehm explains. She says that the Russians were, on the whole, less satisfied with their lives than the Germans. Nevertheless, the connections investigated in the study are the same in both countries. ‘It is not the agentic values that lead to satisfaction but the communal values. However, an individual’s communal values can only have a positive impact if they are linked with the will to put them into practice.’
Abele AE (2014), Pursuit of communal values in an agentic manner: A way to happiness?. Front. Psychol. 5:1320.
Prof. Dr. Andrea Abele-Brehm
Phone: +49 9131 8522307